Burning of flags and poppy wreaths on nationalist bonfire condemned

Prominent figures from DUP, Sinn Féin and SDLP among those to criticise the burning of symbols

Police in Derry have said they are treating reports of material placed on a bonfire in the Bogside area of the city as hate crimes.

Superintendent Willy Calderwood said potential offences included “the theft and destruction of political material, flags, banners, hate slogans and poppy wreaths” and police were seeking to identify those responsible.

He also said police were investigating a series of “loud bangs” to determine whether shots had been fired.

Bonfires are traditionally lit in nationalist areas of Derry on August 15th to mark the Feast of the Assumption and are also associated with the August anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial in 1971.


There has been widespread condemnation of the images placed on the bonfire before it was lit, which included poppy wreaths, union flags and pictures of the Queen and a PSNI Land Rover.

A large crowd gathered to watch the bonfire being lit on Monday night.

The DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, described the actions as an “outrageous and offensive display of hate”, which should be “universally rejected”.

He tweeted: “When this generation is told there was no alternative to violence, this is the result. Time Michelle O’Neill gave leadership and opposed this hatred. There was always an alternative to killing people.”

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, the party’s policing spokesman, said: “Scenes from bonfires in Derry tonight are absolutely disgraceful and wrong.

“The burning of flags, wreaths and posters which include politicians and other political figures is deeply offensive and is a hate crime. There is no place for these displays of hate anywhere in our society. It must stop now.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in a tweet said: “This is totally out of order. Why do they need to mimic the worst elements of loyalist culture?”

SDLP councillor John Boyle said the display on the bonfire at Meenan Square did not represent the local community.

“The placing of these images and flags on the bonfire in Derry is disgraceful and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” he said. “Those behind this bonfire do not speak for the people of the Bogside who want to live in peace with their neighbours.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said on social media that “whether in July or August, this kind of hatred is so far from the future we should be trying to build”.

Supt Calderwood said that as part of the police’s inquiries “we have gathered and secured evidence of potential offending and we will engage with the Public Prosecution Service who will ultimately have responsibility for decisions in relation to prosecution”.

“The vast majority of people celebrate their culture peacefully and lawfully, and do not want cultural celebrations to be undermined by anti-social behaviour, criminal activity or hate directed towards others. I’m appealing for anyone with any further information, but specifically information on those who may have been responsible for the potential offences to provide it to us to bring those responsible to justice,” he said.

It follows condemnation at the weekend of a number of incidents, including pro-IRA chanting at a Wolfe Tones gig in west Belfast and chants of “Brits out” at the unveiling of a mural.

Meanwhile, Larne Football Club has suspended player John Herron after he was photographed wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Up The Ra”.

In Derry, there was condemnation over the sale of Parachute Regiment flags and UVF flags at a stall at a loyalist parade on Saturday.

Some of the families of those killed during Bloody Sunday in 1972, when the Parachute Regiment opened fire on civilians during a civil rights parade, said they felt personally insulted.

The Apprentice Boys, who organised the parade, have distanced themselves from the stall, and described the incident as “regrettable”.

Mr Boyle added: “It’s extremely disappointing that we are seeing this just days after the sale of UVF and Parachute Regiment flags in our city.

“While I understand the hurt and pain that has caused people, reacting in kind serves nobody.

“People who wish to celebrate and commemorate elements of their culture and traditions should always aim to do so in a non-confrontational way without seeking to offend or upset anyone else.

“The past few days have shown that as a society we still have work to do in order to move forward as one.”

In Belfast, no major bonfires were lit in Belfast last week to mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment on August 9th, 1971.

This follows efforts which have been made over several years, including a large music concert as part of Féile An Phobail, to divert young people from bonfires.

In July, police announced they were looking into almost 60 potential offences reported as having taken place at loyalist bonfires to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

These reports include allegations of theft and destruction of political material, flags, hate slogans and effigies.

There was widespread condemnation after photographs emerged of hanging effigies of Sinn Féin president and vice-president Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill, as well as Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, on a bonfire in Carrickfergus. — Additional reporting PA.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times